This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
Of course! I thought. Who else but a former CIA man would head a company 60 percent of whose business came from the government, much of it consisting of analysis of aerial photographs shot for intelligence purposes? Perhaps, then, Itek’s report might not be considered conclusive—at least by those who saw a CIA conspiracy behind every grisly happening anywhere in the world. Of course, Itek had published, and widely distributed, its report, so that if the results had been fudged, other scientists would have caught it. On the other hand, how many people were there with the scientific ability to challenge Itek’s report—and with no links to the CIA?
I gave up. Enough was enough. But I love to tell the story on myself, and maybe on all of us, of how, in the end, the only people I could get to investigate a picture that might (by a stretch of conspiratorial imagination) involve the CIA were people who worked for the CIA.
Among the people I told my story on myself to was Richard Sprague, one of the most dedicated investigators of the Kennedy assassination—and no, not related to Itek’s Howard Sprague. It was, perhaps, inevitable that Richard Sprague would make contact with assassination buff Jones Harris. Perhaps it was equally inevitable that—given Watergate and the question of whether agents had assassinated (or had tried to assassinate) Fidel Castro and other political leaders—Harris would conclude that UPI and Itek had engaged in a conspiracy to destroy his theory and cover up the facts of the assassination. In the summer of 1973 he informed Reinhardt and me that he had come to just this conclusion.
The art of electronic analysis had advanced in the more than six years that had elapsed since Itek had completed its study. So I decided to try one more investigation, this time with a California company called Image Transform.
At this point, in late August 1973, the producers of the film Executive Action inquired about the use of the Nix film. I flew out to the Coast, made a deal—the film would be used only as stock shots, not as evidence of Harris’ theory—and then went out to Image Transform’s Los Angeles laboratories. There I learned that commercial apparatus could do little to enhance the quality of the Nix film. A technician suggested that, as a last resort, I should take the film to Dr. Kenneth Castleman, a scientist at the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena.
I took a taxi to Pasadena. Dr. Castleman and I viewed the film. He saw the shape. He suggested that more sophisticated digital computer techniques developed by Caltech to reconstruct lunar photographs could, perhaps, solve the riddle of the grassy knoll shadow. He found an interested Caltech graduate student, James Latimer, who did the computer image processing as a class project in a course on digital image processing. The processed images were then analyzed by Alan Gillespie, of Calthech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Fifteen months went by. In February 1975 I received a report marked “PRELIMINARY FOR INFORMATION ONLY.” The report concluded:
In this analysis the Nix film fails to support strongly “the grassy knoll assassin” theory. No errors were found in the Itek report and its conclusions remain the most likely. A study of the area between the stairs and the [pergola] found no new evidence of assassins there. However, in the light of the poor image quality and the availability of suitable hiding places, a grassy knoll assassin cannot positively be ruled out.
The report also states that it is “remotely possible” that certain features are “due to an assassin immediately behind the wall who moved to his right, as Nix moved .” After receiving this report, which I believed to be the nearest thing to a conclusive answer about the film, I learned that assassination buffs have detected three assassins—two of who supposedly bear a resemblance to Watergate figures E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis—in the Nix film, this time on the steps leading down from the knoll. Now Castleman and Gillespie have those frames and this whole this may start up again. God forbid.